With one of our Summer Friday’s conveniently synced up, Mike and I decided a getaway was in order. We tossed around some ideas. I tentatively suggested driving down to Lexington, where I went to school. After all, it’s a great summer spot: a sleepy little town with some lovely restaurants, incredible hiking, tubing down the river with a cooler of beer, wine tasting, and my good friend Dinah who is studying for her CPA all summer and who could probably use some distracting. Too bad it’s a bit of a far drive.
We also tossed around the idea of Delaware. And then we looked at Montauk at the tip of Long Island. I wanted a beach that we could get to by train, and once there not require any other mode of transportation. Once she heard this, Mike’s sister insisted we try Fire Island.
It was a perfect choice. Most people know Fire Island as a gay destination. In fact, I first heard of it over a long brunch with a gay friend of a friend. Sites about Fire Island like to claim that Cherry Grove, the gay destination, is family friendly, but as my friend’s gay uncle told her, “We would totally invite you out to our house, but…you’re not gay!” Can’t be more clear than that.
Our destination would be Ocean Beach, a tiny little town that is more conventional. No cars are allowed, which is super exciting for a smog-breathing city girl like myself. There’s a long beach, and plenty of restaurants and bars.
Early Friday morning Mike and I hopped the train out of Penn station to Bay Shore, where we caught the ferry across. From Penn Station to the dock took all of two and half hours. Mike had secured us a cheap (by Ocean Beach standards) apartment for the weekend. Great move, because the hotels there are insanely expensive, and feature communal bathrooms and “gross” rooms. Our apartment was much larger than we even needed, with a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and bedroom. The best part is that it was less than twenty paces from the dock, right above the convenience store, and a thirty second walk from the nearest bar.
It was a perfect day for the beach, with hot sunshine and wispy clouds jetting across the sky. We dumped our stuff, changed, and walked the quarter mile down the sidewalks, past the little summer cottages with cute names and, as we got closer, large modern houses fronting the water. My goal had been to be on the beach and stripped down to my bikini by 11 AM, and I’m happy to report we only missed the mark by a half hour. Best of all, the beach was practically empty. I can’t say much about the next three hours, except that I took full advantage of my tanning time and the therapeutic qualities of salty sea water. As more people arrived from the mainland, the beach filled up to the point where we had to listen to someone else’s conversation. Horror.
When I felt my skin start to turn from medium rare to well done, we walked back to town, had a late lunch, took a long nap, had dinner, and went out for drinks, all the while wandering about the island with stars in our eyes, sand in our hair, and empty wallets.
Yup, Ocean Beach is crazy expensive. Our lunch at Island Mermaid of crab cakes, a tuna burger, steamers, and a couple of tropical drinks set us back more than $80. We split a delicious lobster for dinner at Matthews with a modest appetizer of – count em – five shrimp, paired with some Red Wagon Fire Island ale and pricey $14 cocktails, and that set us back more than a hundred. Each beer itself cost at least $8, if not more. We just shrugged it off. After all, it’s hard to get worked up about something after waking up from a delicious nap and walking a hundred yards to watch the waves lap up against the dock, rocking the boats in their slips, while sipping fruity cocktails. Not a car horn could be heard.
The rest of the weekend went similarly. I had grand plans to go to Hands Across the Sand, but we quickly learned that Ocean Beach is cut off from the surrounding area. You have to walk along the beach to get to anywhere. So I gave up my lofty plans of hiking and engaging in a protest against BP, and resigned myself to doing nothing of value whatsoever. It was wonderful.
Friday night after dinner we walked along the beach and then cut back to town along a road no bigger than a golf course sidewalk. A long siren rose up in front of us. A good ten minutes later, as we approached the firehouse, a tiny fire truck pulled out out and drove off toward town. It was about the size of an ambulance. “Oh wow, I wish I had my camera!” I cried after seeing the five firemen clinging to the back of the little thing, all lit up with flashing lights.
“If a house was on fire, it’s no longer there,” said older man with yarmulka to the fireman who had been left behind. The fireman shrugged. “It’s a barbecue.” Such is island life.
We next went to the Sand Bar, which takes the Bridge/Tunnel crowd prize. Mike is originally from Long Island, but has gotten pretty far away from that scene. We danced a bit, but I didn’t feel up to the task of competing with all the sexy dresses on the Long Island ladies. After all, I had heard that Fire Island is super casual, so I had just brought a couple pairs of shorts and some casual tops. Not a form fitting dress and sky high heels. Mike just gaped at the bros pumping their fists in time with Biggie Smalls. We stuck around long enough for a truly disgusting “Midnight Makeout” shot, and then beat it.
Saturday morning I woke up early and went for a long jog while Mike slept off his lingering cold. When I got back to the apartment, I popped downstairs to the convenience store to get a pricey pint of milk for the granola I had brought from Manhattan, and a single serving of orange juice. Together they set me back $6.
I noticed, as Mike and I ate breakfast, that the milk proudly proclaimed “From Real Cows!” Uh, what else would it be made of? Oh, how far I had fallen from free-range, organic, grass fed, local, farmers market milk from Milk Thistle farm. Here I was drinking a milk whose best feature was that it was from an actual cow. Mike and I cracked jokes about the real cows.
“Bacon! From real pigs!”
“Apples! From real trees!”
“Orange juice! From real oranges,” Mike quipped.
“Actually, that’s not much of a joke anymore,” I lamented.
For our strenuous activity of the weekend, we decided to rent bikes. We paid $25 each and walked our bikes through town. There are rules against riding bikes within the city limits on weekends and holidays. At the eastern edge we took off, rolling leisurely along the paths shaded by bamboo, beach fragmite, rose bushes, and fragrant honeysuckle. About twenty minutes into our ride, we came up against a fence. We biked south and tried another road. Locked as well. As a nice young mom told us, the other side was a gated community. So much for our strenuous bike ride. We biked back to town, walked through, and rode past the game middle aged men playing baseball until we were stopped once again by a lack of anywhere to go.
So we did the whole loop again. We tried one more time to get into the fancy gated community, but no one would help us out. So we stopped on the way back by a little deserted hut called Park Pizza. As we waited at the counter for someone to come out, I started at the sight of a chihauha perched on a stool, peeping out from behind the counter.
“Bertie,” a disheveled, blond, middle-aged woman said, walking out from the back room.
Mike and I shot each other a confused look. “What?”
“Bertie,” she said again, and pointed to the chihuahua. “Oh!” I said. “Hi Bertie!” The little dog stared at me disinterestedly. He didn’t want to make the effort to climb up the counter to be petted, no matter how many kissy and cooing noises I made.
We ordered a few slices of pizza, and I ordered a Diet Pepsi. You know I’m not a soda drinker, but it seemed like the perfect occasion for it, if there ever was one.
I can’t really vouch for the sanitary conditions of the pizza shack, with a kitchen that could be more aptly described as a junkyard, but the pizza was pretty good, especially with sweet peppers on top. It was nice to eat it while leaning back in the sunshine, watching joggers, golf carts, parents pulling red wagons, and kids on bikes go by.
After turning our overpriced bikes back in, we stopped in at Ice Castle candy shop which also had ice cream and fudge. “Is your ice cream made in-house?” I inquired. No use wasting calories on Edy’s or Hershey’s. “It’s not made in house, but it is homemade,” the girl assured me, from micro-batches by a local place called…Steve’s? Steven’s? I wish I remembered! I got myself a scoop of cake batter and a scoop of funfetti on top. It was like eating ice cream cake, but BETTER. I felt like a little girl again, when Mike paid for it and we sat outside on bench, him watching me with an amused expression while I tried to keep it from melting all over my hands.
We passed the afternoon with the US-Ghana World Cup game at the Island Mermaid, then dinner at McGuires (best view in Ocean Beach, though the service was horrendous), and finally a walk through dark paths to the beach. We occasionally passed a house where we could hear drunken shouts and music coming from inside, but mostly it was a peaceful, humid night. We drank beers on the beach, watching the waves slide back and forth underneath the yellow moon, until the beach was overrun with shrieking, drunk, high school girls and boys from Long Island taking flash photos, and we retreated back to our apartment.
I started my day on Sunday late. Well, late for me. I woke up at 9, eating some berries for breakfast and then walked downstairs and five steps outside of my door to Healing Waters Massage for my 10:00 appointment. A little blond lady was behind the desk. She was like what Marilyn Monroe would sound like, if she had reached 50, with a high-pitched, nervous flutter of a voice. “I’m just filling in for my friend,” she told me. “She’s at a wedding this weekend.”
She introduced me to Chris, my very handsome and tan masseuse. I want to say he had an Australian accent, but I think I’m just making that up. Yeah, I am.
He led me to the back room with the table and left me there to get ready, closing the door behind me. I pulled off my coverup which left me with just my bikini. I looked at the table with the folded-down sheet, and then down at myself. I hesitantly opened the door and peeked out. “Um, Jane?” I called. “Yes dear?” she said, popping around the corner.
“I’m supposed to go under the sheet, right?” I asked.
“And um, am I supposed to get naked?”
Just then Chris appeared. “Oh, yes!” Jane nodded at me eagerly. “Jane,” Chris cut in placing a hand on her arm,”let me handle this – ”
“Oh! I – sorry – I just – ” She burst into a fit of nervous giggles. I started laughing too, and she just giggled louder, and then threw her arms around me in a bear hug. Finally Chris shooed her away, and told me that yes, I could get naked, but only if I was comfortable with it. I thanked him, went back in, and got naked, nervously scooting myself under the sheet.
Luckily Chris was super professional, and pretty good too. He massaged out all my cubicle dweller kinks quite nicely, and I emerged relaxed and smelling like essential oil, ready to hit the beach again. (Luckily, Mike is not the jealous type.) I met him at the Mermaid bar, where he was watching a Cup game. Well, first I stopped to get a square of peanut butter and chocolate fudge from Ice Castle. Then we headed to the beach for another lazy afternoon, hiding our Red Stripe from passing lifeguards by creating a tent out of the beach rules they passed out. Rules like “No throwing balls or playing frisbee,” and “no food, drinks, or water.” What?
Mike had mentioned several times he is not the beach type. As I read my yoga magazine and tried not to snigger at the power of prayer to heal tumors, I realized he was talking to me.
“Hmmm, what?” I said, distracted.
“I think I actually do like the beach,” he said. “All I’ve ever been to are the really crowded beach on Long Island that are drivable. You don’t have any space. But this is great.” I’m glad I could show him the light.
We ended our weekend with chicken wings and sweet potato fries while watching the Argentina-Mexico Cup game, and then a couple of tropical drinks by the bay. We boarded the ferry well-rested and happy.
“It was really fun,” I told Mike as the ferry growled its way back to the mainland and the breeze whipped through my salty, crunchy hair, “But I’m ready to go.”
Indeed, we had run out of things to do. I guess we could have eaten and drank more, but three days was the perfect amount of time to spent in this tiny secluded island town.